ACT II. Injuries, Deaths. Structural Violence

This issue of Paper Promises focuses it analysis in the situations that endangered the integrity or degenerated in injuries and deaths of Venezuelan children and adolescents, during the first quadrimester of 2020. During this period, media outlets reported 188 children and adolescents injured and 96 dead. Out of the total deaths, 19 were caused by crime, 10 by domestic violence, 2 by action or omission of police bodies, 15 by traffic accidents, 2 by suicide and 48 by structural violence. This latter figure is considered particularly alarming due to its long-term implications.

The situations believed to be accidental were set apart from those which showed evidence of harmful intent and where there were one or several identified perpetrators, within the core of the family, known, unknown, or security force agents. The deaths and injuries due to accidents caused by failures of public services are considered part of the structural violence affecting children and adolescents in the country, especially in socially vulnerable locales, and for which public authorities are directly responsible either by action or omission. There have been 172 cases of structural violence that constitute 60.5% of the total record carried out for this report.

Premeditated damage

During the period covered by this report, 19 adolescents ages 13 to 17 were killed. The perpetrators are unknown are most of the victims are male. Some relevant cases are: a boy who died in January after being shot in a bus in Caracas; a girl (14) who died of a head trauma caused by bludgeoning object in her home in Maracay; and a boy who was hit by a lost bullet during a shootout between criminal gangs. Another girl died in a spiritualist ritual she attended with her mother.

The household, a space that should guarantee the greatest safety, becomes the crime scene and caretakers have killed 10 children aged 0 to 5 years old, and assailed 61 children and adolescents. In most cases, physical harm is the usual cause of death, while verbal and physical assault, abandonment and neglect are some of the forms of degrading punishment against children and adolescents in the country. Such are the cases of two small girls who fell out of windows in their homes. Regarding injuries, a relevant case is that of a boy and a girl who ran from their home in Táchira and resurfaced in Colombia, saying that their mother had told the boy that he was a burden. A 4-year old child was physically abused by his step-father in Carabobo and had to undergo surgery.

Two adolescents (16 and 17) have died by the action of police officers, one of them at the hands of agents of the National Anti-Extortion and Anti-Kidnapping Command (CONAS) who were chasing him as an alleged criminal. Similarly, 10 children and adolescents were injured by security forces, including the case of a little girl (2) in Zulia state, struck in the face with a rifle by a National Guard. Two adolescent girls were kidnapped by the CONAS, as a bait to arrest a person who had denounced the situation of the healthcare system in Monagas. Bullet wounds were prevalent in clashes between criminal gangs and police bodies, in prisons and in public protests attacked by armed civilian groups or security officers.

In the first four months of this year there were four cases of injuries caused by dangerous games among adolescents. Moreover, 4 children and adolescents were kidnapped and there were two cases of suicide one of a boy in Caracas and one of a 10-year old girl in Aragua.

Structural violence: injuries and deaths

The unintentional injuries and deaths during this period include those caused by traffic accidents (car crashes and explosions). 15 children and adolescents died violently and 45 were injured in these situations. 4 children and adolescents burned to death when traveling in a vehicle transporting a canister with gasoline due to difficulties to refuel on the road; 3 children died when a car crashed against a military vehicle and a 13-year old boy had both his legs amputated after an accident in La Guaira during the carnival.

Four adolescents drowned in beaches and rivers. A 12-year old girl drowned after a pipeline came loose in the Hidrolago water treatment plant in Zulia.

12 children and adolescents died and 15 were injured in an explosion of cooking gas canisters, the collapse of a gate in a community, burns in natural wildfires, electrocution while they were flying kites, the collapse of a water cistern or by snake bites. In the cases of children and adolescents burned of bitten by snakes, the nearby hospitals lacked the conditions to provide them effective attention, so they had to be taken elsewhere with irreparable consequences.

32 children and adolescents died and 49 were injured due to the situation of the Complex Humanitarian Emergency that affects the human right to health. In Bolívar state, 25% of children and adolescents admitted in hospitals die of malnutrition.

Protective efforts

The tough figures and the absence of a State that guarantees the most essential rights outline an ominous reality for children and adolescents in the country. However, once again private initiatives of civil society, NGOs and human rights activities bravely sustain the threads of hope that allow the cleansing of wounds and the opening of a clear path to justice and reparation.

It is important to note the work of institutions such as Prepara Familia in the J.M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital, seeking to provide dignified conditions so that children can overcome their health issues; or the tireless work of Cecodap in documenting and denouncing the violations of children’s rights; also, e must highlight the actions of Fundaredes in reporting the situation of violence suffered by children and adolescents in border towns, or the nutritional support provided by Caritas and Cesap for children, adolescents and their families in remote areas, while various programs for psycho-social support and attention of victims of abuse, fulfill an important role to overcome the traumas caused by the national context.

Last but not least, we must note the invaluable daily work of media outlets, which bridges the gap of official opacity and enables us to offer this analysis and underscore the effort of those who continue to give childhood and adolescence in Venezuela the promise of a kinder country, where all of their rights are confirmed and respected.